New timetables put to test in Falkirk schools

New 33 period week will give teachers more contact time with pupils, according to Falkirk Council
New 33 period week will give teachers more contact time with pupils, according to Falkirk Council
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Changes to the school day will prove a huge “challenge” for parents, it was claimed this week.

Falkirk Council is introducing a 33-period week in all its secondary schools from August this year.

The move was agreed as long ago as January 2013. But as its implementation approaches, parents have discovered how much it will impact on them and their youngsters.

Almost 18 months ago the council’s then education committee agreed to extend the working day for teachers and pupils from 30 to 33 periods to maximise efficiency and make better use of staff resources.

This was despite hearing that the change would add around £135,000 to the school transport bill.

Consultation took place with parents, pupils, teachers and their unions. And the move was rubberstamped in May last year at the first meeting of the new-look education executive after councillors heard there was “broad acceptance”.

However, as the schools have now unveiled their plans it has become apparent they have all come up with different ways of delivering the 27.5 hours of schooling for pupils and 22.5 hours of contact time for teachers as set out in the McCrone agreement.

While schools are cutting time off morning and lunch breaks, most appear to be including form periods when calculating the contact time with teachers. For instance, Braes High and Bo’ness Academy are both moving to 32-period weeks with 10 minutes daily for registration to make up the reminder of the requisite time.

But it is the staggered finishing times which appear to be causing most disquiet.

While Denny High currently finishes at 3.30 p.m., from August class time will conclude at 2.50 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 3.40 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is the opposite of the possible timetable structure that was shown to councillors which had only two early-finish days.

One concerned parent said it will cause real problems for families.

The dad said: “It will be a real challenge, albeit not an insurmountable one, but it will be a real challenge.

“We are not in the catchment area for Denny High School so collecting my daughter from there and then getting to my son’s primary school in 10 minutes is going to be very difficult, if not impossible.”

He added that reducing break times, including lunch to 40 minutes, was not conducive to children’s ability to learn, adding: “I believe it is not enough time away from their desks.”

Before councillors agreed to the change in policy they heard that concerns had been raised about potential issues for working parents and childcare, earlier starts to the day and the risk of younger pupils becoming tired with some longer afternoons.

The local authority received just 91 written responses to the consultation from the thousands of parents who had been invited to give their views.

But the unhappy dad said parents of children who were at primary school at that time were not included in the consultation, despite its potential impact on them.

Councillor Alan Nimmo, education convener, said: “Each school was given the scope to introduce the 33-period week in the way that best suited them and that includes finishing times if they wished. This was designed to give more classroom time and, as far as I’m aware, it is working.”